The Guilty

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Guilty
"Well-written dialogue, strong acting all round and unobtrusive but taut direction give it real strength." | Photo: Nikolaj Moller

Working as a call handler on the emergency lines is notoriously stressful work. There are a lot of inappropriate calls; there are a lot of abusive calls, and in many cases there isn't much psychological support. What's more, there's no sense of resolution - it's a call handler's job simply to assess the situation and then hand it on to people who can take action, be they police officers, paramedics or firefighters. It takes a particular kind of person to cope with this. Asger (Jakob Cedergren) is not such a person. He's a police officer, happiest when out on the beat responding directly to what's happening around him. He's on phone duty pending a court appearance over an incident whose nature we gradually learn more about as the film develops. His frustration peaks when he gets a call from a woman saying she's been kidnapped.

At first, Asger has to stay involved. The woman, Iben, can't stay on the line; if she gets through again, she wants to speak to him. But later, after he's told that those on the ground are dealing with it, he feels unable to let go. Unable to leave his control room, he uses the resources he has at his disposal to try to find out more, identifying both Iben and the former partner who has taken her, getting through to the family home and talking to a frightened six-year-old. Not everything is what it appears to be, however, and there's a reason why Asger's colleagues express concern at his actions, why he feels the need for subterfuge. Could he, in getting out of his depth, actually make the situation worse? And what about his own situation, the secret whose moral weight now feels greater than ever?

Copy picture

Shot entirely within the office suite where Asger is based, and thereby requiring the audience to imagine what's going on at the heart of the action, The Guilty nevertheless exerts a grip that never slackens. It's not a perfect film - in places the plot feels contrived - but well-written dialogue, strong acting all round and unobtrusive but taut direction give it real strength. Despite the problems with the script it does a pretty good job of releasing information just enough to prompt suspicions early on without giving everything away until close to the end, at which point underlying themes move to the fore and we are reminded that the puzzle-solving we've been drawn into is only part of a much bigger picture. This mirror's Asger's own journey as he gradually realises what it means to act on too little information, or without regard for the wider consequences.

Finding humanity in difficult places, The Guilty brings an unusual amount of emotional nuance to bear for this type of thriller. As Denmark's submission for the 2019 Oscars, it's one of the most impressive entries in the running for Best Foreign Language Film. Catch it if you can.

Reviewed on: 04 Dec 2018
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After he takes a call from a woman in a desperate situation, an emergency operator feels unable to let go.


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